I work with a lot of people who experience anxiety, and some have sought help from well meaning, but misguided church leaders who told them they haven’t prayed enough, read their Bible enough, or trusted God enough. In some cases, my clients have been told that their anxiety is a sin. After all, the Bible does say, “Do not be anxious about anything.” (Phil 4:6).
Anxiety may be defined differently by different people. Anxiety could be described as a thought process of worry or as the physical symptoms of sweating, heart racing, and shortness of breath. According to Dictionary.com, anxiety is, “a feeling of worry, nervousness, or unease.” Anxiety is a feeling. Are feelings sin?
The short answer is no. Many biblical “heroes” were anxious or afraid: Gideon when he tore down his father’s altars, Elijah when he fled from Jezebel, and Moses going before Pharaoh. Jesus himself knew about anxiety before he went to the cross. He was in such anguish that he sweat drops of blood (hematohidrosis if you’d like to google). In my years of working with anxious people, I’ve never met anyone who has experienced that level of physical anxiety.
Even if you’re not sweating blood, you may have some intense physical experiences when you’re anxious. Your brain and nervous system are hardwired to keep you safe and alive. That’s very helpful when faced with true danger, but the problem is that sometimes the danger signal in the brain can be prone to misfire. This is especially true in the case of those who have experienced trauma. If you have experienced trauma or are dealing with a lot of anxiety, there are trained professionals who would love to help you. In my experience, EMDR is a great treatment option for people experiencing anxiety because of the physical release that can be obtained.
So, the feeling of anxiety is not a sin, but how you handle it may or may not be. Avoidance of doing what God calls you to do because you are afraid is sin. I’ve been anxious about many things that God has called me to do such as speaking in front of people, traveling across the world on a mission trip, and starting my business. Starting the Hope for Anxiety and OCD podcast was very anxiety provoking because at the end of the day, I’m still a little shy about sharing details regarding my life. I’ve been able to feel that fear and continue in action because I have confidence that God has called me to this work.
There have been other times though that my anxiety has gotten in the way of my faith. There have been times where I tried to convince God there was already someone else out there who is either already doing it better or would be much more qualified for the task. There have been several occasions where I have kept quiet for fear of misunderstanding, judgement, or rejection. I have taken the “God language” out of things God has clearly done in my life that He wants me to share with others. That’s not OK.
You may struggle with some of the same things too. I want you to know that if you’ve avoided doing something God has called you to, God’s grace is big enough to cover all of it. You can accept that grace while also challenging yourself towards growth into who God desires for you to be. Take action on what you believe God has spoken to you about doing.
While doing a little searching for this post, I found 81 references in the Bible for, “Do not be afraid.” Why is that in the Bible so many times? Because God knew we were going to be afraid. He knew we were going to wrestle with this emotion and need some reassurance that everything is going to be OK, that He is big enough to handle it, and that He will not leave us in the process. “Do not be afraid” is there to comfort us, not to condemn us when we are afraid.
I’m sure there is much more that can be written about the intersection of anxiety and faith in Christ. Until then, if you have specific questions, I’d love to hear from you in the comments section.